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Uganda: Blog Awards, Digital Activism and More

A historic moment in the Ugandan blogosphere occurred a few weeks ago as the winners of the 2006 Uganda Best of Blog awards were announced. Since February 2007, local bloggers have been gathering for the Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour, which is held monthly at Mateo's bar in downtown Kampala.

The awards were the brainchild of Jackfruity, an irreverent, civically minded blogger based in Kampala. The goal of the awards, according to Jackfruity, is “to recognize the incredible writing and art in this community.” The awards were decided based on open voting over a month long period, culminating in a ceremony at the March Happy Hour. Awards were given to a diverse crowd of bloggers, ranging from a Ugandan woman living in India to a Danish woman living in northern Uganda.

Here are the winners of 2006 Uganda Best of Blogs Awards:

Uganda Blog of the Year:

I Have Left Copenhagen for Uganda

Best Writing:
Dear Mr. Mccourt (now Once Upon Ish)

Best Design:
Living Zack's Utopia

Best Photography:
Locus Amoenus: Gulu, Northern Uganda

Best Post:
mataachi inc.: Kim +10

The Mabira Forest Controversy

Ugandan bloggers have responded forcefully to the story that the Ugandan cabinet was considering giving away 7,100 hectares of Mabira Forest to private investor to turn into a sugarcane plantation. Mabira Forest is prominently located on the Kampala-Jinja Road and is Uganda's largest tropical forest. I Have Left Copenhagen for Uganda reports that a boycott of Lugozi Sugar, a brand owned by the company intent on developing Mabira Forest, is being promoted via text message:

Congratulations to the Ugandan civil society for reacting! This is a fine example of a non-violent action, which in no time has created massive attention among the population, not just on individual basis, but also institutions and organisations are reacting. And not just within Uganda, it is going global. Campaign-wise this is a very interesting tool; any person with a mobile and airtime can participate.

However, no one said it should be easy; Police Spokesman Asan Kasingye is now hunting the originators of the text messages encouraging the sugar-boycott. He states that this kind of boycott is economic sabotage, claiming probably rightfully, it is illegal in the country. He is prepared to carry out arrests. In my opinion this man's reaction is proving that the campaign is working! Guess the Uganda goverment is to learn about modern non-violent campaigning methods…(hopefully before it runs out out teargas).

In his post titled, “Battle to halt Mabira Forest giveaway taken to cyberspace,” Abubaker Basajjabaka shows the effectiveness of the SMS campaign:

With government playing hide and seek, on top of giving contradictory statements about the whole saga, environmentalists took their fight to FM Radio Stations, dgroups and have also resorted to using Short Message Services (SMS) to caution Ugandans to stop buying Lugazi Sugar if their desire to grab part of Mabira Forest is not dropped.

SMS have particularly been effective. Over the weekend, packets of Lugazi Sugar have been piling up in supermarkets besides some business owners withdrawing them from their stalls. Environmentalists have been arguing that apportioning part of Mabira Forest would bring more adverse effects than the sugar shortage. Opposition politicians have also picked up the slack and are busy de-campaigning government for seer lack of concern if they granted a deal like that.

Rainforest Blog calls for action to stop “Great Ugandan Mabira Rainforest Give-Away”:

Let the Ugandan Parliament know rainforests and their ecological services including water, climate and biodiversity are more important than sugar which can be grown elsewhere. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni continues to pursue legally dubious plans to destroy large areas of Uganda's last important intact and protected rainforests. Some one-third of Mabira Forest Reserve [search], about 7,000 hectares of an area which has been protected since 1932, will lose its protection for sugar cane production by the Mehta Group.

Daniel Kalinaki, a prominent journalist for the East African, weighs in on his personal blog:

In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, President Yoweri Museveni waxes lyrical about his life-long drive and ambition to liberate Ugandans politically and economically. The jury is still out on whether the political liberation, aka the ‘fundamental change’, is temporary or a mere papering over the cracks. Economic development, however, will certainly not come by pawning the family silver as giving away Mabira represents. To do so would be to see the forest for the trees, instead of seeing the trees for the forest.

Two other bloggers, Just Sayin and Only in Uganda, both write that concerns of economic development and environmental protection should be balanced.

There is an online petition to save the Mabira with over 9000 signatures.

Blatant Abuse of Power

After government agents raided Uganda's High Court to re-arrest six treason suspects who had been granted bail, In An African Minute wonders how seriously Ugandans should take the President's recent abuses of power:

My last Global Voices piece seems to have brought to light an interesting conversation of how seriously to take Museveni's recent excesses in suppressing opposition activity. On one hand are those who see storm clouds fast approaching on the horizon. James can see Uganda becoming the next Zimbabwe.

On the other end of the spectrum is 27th comrade, who worries little when Presidential storm troopers raid the High Court after opposition candidates have been let off bail. Sadly, this represents the attitude of a large portion of Ugandans, for whom state excess has become commonplace:

Unfortunately, by the standards of the continent, Museveni is a darling. He has not gone the way of Mugabe, bull dozing entire slums and eliminating entire opposition parties. Nor has Museveni gone the way of Ethiopia's Zenawi, who blatantly kills protesters on the street of Addis, spies excessively, and censors the Internet. However, no nation in East Africa is beyond falling back into despotism, and Museveni's recent excesses should be treated as part of a slippery slope. International pressure, and to the extent that it is possible, domestic pressure, should continue to hold Museveni responsible for the excesses of his regime.

Finally, sub-Saharan African Roundtable paints a colorful picture of Kampala's hectic streets:

Kampala is one of those cities that are bursting at the seams. And unlike Harare where they look for fuel solutions by giving policemen mountain bikes to patrol the streets, the Ugandan capital is the first and only place in the world where everyone and anyone can get away with anything illegal. If you were caught draining mercury from all hospital thermometers for instance, you can and probably will get away with it – do not ask me how. If you evicted one of the oldest schools in the country from prime land by saying you were going to build a world class hotel for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [CHOGM] in November 2007, nothing would be done to you if you downed the buildings and left them to the fallow for three months – making that part of the city look like Mogadishu!

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